Magazine article Marketing

Preparing Virgin Cola for the Fight of Its Life

Magazine article Marketing

Preparing Virgin Cola for the Fight of Its Life

Article excerpt

Virgin Cola has failed to establish itself as a serious rival even to OWN brands. Can it find some of the answers before it becomes a casualty of the cola war?

Last week Virgin Drinks, home to Virgin Cola, lost its UK managing director in the latest shake-up to hit Branson's empire.

Swag Mukerji left as Virgin Drinks centralised its international operations at its UK base. Mukerji was responsible for marketing - a tough brief for any brand in the soft drinks market, but particularly for a relative newcomer.

Virgin Cola has always had a large task on its hands, with Coke and Pepsi retaining such a stranglehold. Branson set his sights on the number two spot when he launched the brand as a joint venture with Canadian drinks company Cott in 1994 (he bought Cott's stake in 1998). Yet Virgin Cola is still lagging. According to ACNielsen, Virgin had sales of [pound]28.6m in audited retail outlets in the UK in 1999, while Coke had sales of [pound]620.4m.

Virgin Cola spends relatively little on advertising, compared with Coke and Pepsi. This year it spent [pound]5m in the UK, with campaigns through Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R featuring animated character Roller-cola Girl. But the brand has been working hard on innovations. In June it launched a new product for kids called Mini-V, which is caffeine-free with 30% less sugar. Virgin has also launched a loyalty scheme called I-can, where customers can exchange ring-pulls for money off Virgin products.

We asked Glenn Harrison, creative director at international branding consultancy Tango how Virgin can break through in the crowded cola market. Tango, part of the Identica Partnership, sepcialises in youth culture and has worked on US energy drink Gatorade. Our second commentator also brings expertise from Tango - this time from the Britvic-owned soft drink. Jeremy Nichols is a planner at HHCL & Partners, the ad agency that has helped build the soft drink as a successful British brand.

DIAGNOSIS

The thought of challenging Coca-Cola, one of the planet's most recognisable brands, is an exciting concept... and typically Virgin.

The Virgin brand is a manifestation of one man's personality, confident enough to challenge the establishment, yet still in touch with giving consumers a better deal. This is central to Virgin's appeal.

Virgin Cola, however, seems to struggle to embody these values. …

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